On the Road is a title which has often been associated with the controversy surrounding the group of authors who wrote during the ‘Beat Movement.’ From my biographical knowledge of the author and his group friends, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs among them, I had pre-conceived notions surrounding the content of text. I envisioned sex, alcohol, and drugs being glorified in a time when people were beginning to develop newer, more easygoing perspectives.
Like any true-to-life story of young Americans searching for someone or something to answer life’s biggest questions, the characters in On the Road experiment with sex, drugs, and alcohol. But, this is not at all the essence of the novel. Kerouac describes a generation of intelligent, yet completely confused and disheartened young adults. Not only are Sal Paradise, the narrator, and his friends from all corners of the country traveling every chance they get to find that something missing; it seems many other travelers and hitchhikers are doing the same at this point in time. Everyone is coming together, going East to West then back again. ‘They have no direction.’
An emblem of this misdirection and madness is Dean Moriarty. In a time when others, especially Sal, need to be guided in the right direction,Dean displays a ‘wild, natural, care-free,’ existence which is new to his peers. From the beginning of the friendship, Sal notes that he is attracted to mad people and there is something unique about Dean. Dean is influencing Sal’s decisions. It’s easy to see why people would be drawn to Dean’s charismatic energy. Typical of a young guy, he hasn’t intellectually matured past adolescence. This makes him irresponsible and fun. Moving from one place to another as fast as possible is simple because he never plans or thinks about consequences.
At first, Sal mimics Dean’s behaviors. Traveling, drinking, smoking, spending money, womanizing are all done without a thought for what will come next or reasons why it is necessary. Sal believes the connection the two men have is really deep for a few years. It is one of friendship, admiration, and love until one crazy night. Riding in the car, Dean is certain God exists. Since nothing is within his control, there is no need to worry about anything. It is the perfect excuse to continue this lifestyle. Morning rolls around and Sal recalls the night before. The real Dean is becoming more and more clear. His sweat, always stammering on and on, constant anxiety. In the light of day there was no God. ‘It was only the tea we were smoking.’ It is time to admit that Dean may just be insane.
Many people have a person in their life they truly love who lets them down. Sal is blinded for a long time by Dean’s charms, telling himself Dean really is a decent person.Even when others say Dean is a ‘scoundrel and con-artist,’ Sal searches for something deeper within him. The relationship between these two is one which is extremely relatable in the sense that all along Sal is attracted to the ‘criminal’ and unredeemable qualities in Dean. It is not always goodness people find endearing. In a way, the reader finds themselves wanting the relationship to withstand Dean’s inadequacies as a friend because both characters take on such familiar and human qualities.
As soon as Sal begins to conceptualize the purpose of his constant wandering, he recognizes they have not and will not accomplish anything on the road. Dean doesn’t care, but Sal does. Ultimately, Dean, like the others, seeks answers to how to deal with life’s mysteries: how does one find happiness in the uncertainty that is the world? In the end, though, his quest results in his loss of his himself.
So often those we may look up to at one point in time become the people we ‘lose faith in’ as our own process of maturation leads us in a new direction. The power of this novel lies in Kerouac’s comprehensive capturing of an intimate relationship from its onset to the culmination. Perhaps it is so true to life because it is based upon Kerouac’s relationship with Neal Cassady. (Sal is based on Jack and Dean on Neal). All of the madness in the lives of these two and others occurs as part of the foundation of the counter-culture movement in the U.S. What an amazing story! They grew apart, but didn’t necessarily know where they were going. This is very reminiscent of most paths people take in life.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
New York Times about the author: http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/k/jack_kerouac/index.html
Film(2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0337692/Check this out: Jack
Kerouac reads On the Road http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MjPtem6ZbE
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